Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Space Channel 5 Parts 1 & 2: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #8

This time, I am here to talk about Space Channel 5 - part one and part two. I know technically that's two different games but they're so similar in style and execution I have decided to group them together.

At it's most basic level, the Space Channel 5 games are based on repetition. You watch your opponent do a variety of moves taken from the four directions (up, right, down and left), a "chu" button (X on the PS2) and a "hey" button (the circle button). Then you repeat the moves in the same order, and you also have to get the timing right as well. If that sounds very simple, it is. If that sounds boring, it isn't. Why? The wonderful music and the style of the game.

Space Channel 5 has music running deep in its veins - funky, 60's esque carnival music, often with latin american flavour. The main theme that is the backbone of both games is a piece of music called "Mexican Flyer" by Ken Woodman and his Piccadilly Brass. It wouldn't sound out of place in an old spy film. Alongside this are many other types of music, from waltzes, electric guitar solos, a bit of techno and even some inspired by the work of Michael Jackson (who makes a guest appearance as Space Michael).

This colourful scene is from Part 2, which is much more varied than Part 1.
The 60's also pervades the style of the game. It's all bright orange PVC and curves. The curves are not just to be found on the retro chic space age decor, but also on the leading lady, Ulala. She has been voted sexiest lady in a game on more than one occaision, but of course I really couldn't comment on something as sad as that. *Cough*.

If you don't know the plot, basically, some aliens called the Morolians have invaded Earth and are forcing humans to dance. Why? You'll have to play the game to find out. The script is rather daft and cheesy, but certainly fits in with the style of the game. Ulala says such things as "I feeling kinda... funky!" before a boss battle, and rather worryingly even says something along the lines of "No, not there! Ooooh!" when she gets touched up by a plant in part 2.

Both games only take a couple of hours to complete. Is this a major problem? Not for me it isn't. The music and the sense of fun that the game exudes keeps me coming back time and time again. I must have completed both games at least half a dozen times by now. What's more, they won't break the bank... or the first one won't at least. It can be found online for about £5.  Part 2 seems to be a bit more elusive, and therefore goes for around £25. Do you need both? Not really, as they're fundamentally the same. However, part 2 has a bit more musical variety, the game is a bit more technically accomplished and the levels are more elaborate, so it may just be worth the extra money.  I recommend trying the first one at least at the low price, then maybe shelling out for the second if you find you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kya: Dark Lineage & Kao the Kangeroo: Round 2 | PlayStation 2 Tuedays #7

Today, we’re going to look at not one, but two platformers that really took me by surprise.  I recently had some store credit for my local pre owned game and movie shop, and was struggling to find games that I wanted to make up the full amount.   There were a few games that I weren’t too sure about, but I decided to take a bit of risk and pick them up – they were only £2 each, after all.  Much to my surprise, both of them turned out to be really well put together, and I ended up playing each of them for way longer than I expected to when I just chucked them in for a quick go.  Please note that I haven’t yet finished either of these games, but the quality of what I have seen is really high, so I am fairly confident in recommending both titles especially as neither of them will break the bank.

First up, we have Kya: Dark Lineage, which was published by Atari and developed by Eden Studios in.  Eden Studios are more well known by gamers for their driving games, such as the V-Rally series and Test Drive Unlimited, but they certainly have proven with Kya that they know what they are doing when it comes to putting together a polished platformer.  The game begins with a CGI scene set in our world, where Kya hears a creepy noise in her house at night and goes to investigate.  She discovers that her half brother Frank has found a secret room that Kya’s long absent father had blocked off.  After picking up a strange amulet, Frank is sent through a portal to another world and, fearing for his safety, Kya dives in after him.

After a rather rough landing she wakes up to see a group of furry creatures called Nativs looking down at her.  Before she has long to take stock of her situation however, she is forced to run for her life as the group comes under attack from the evil Wolfun.  After a very extensive tutorial sequence the group eventually arrive to the safety of the village, when you are then told how to fight and given your first proper mission in this new world.  Kya: Dark Lineage impresses from a technical standpoint right away – the graphics rival the likes of Jak and Daxter in terms of their detail, and loading times are cleverly obscured to the point where you barely notice them.

The game frequently switches from one style of gameplay to another, such as floating on a stream of air, riding a magic board down a slope, or beating Wolfun into submission.   Not too far into the game, you are informed that these Wolfun are actually Nativs  in disguise.  Once they have been knocked out, you can use your power to revert them to their original form.  As you save more and more Nativs throughout the levels, new shops will be built back in the hub village.  The items sold there will usually grant Kya some new ability which she will need to learn in order to advance any further.  The currency for these shops comes in the form of Nuties, which are dropped by enemies and also found in crates that can be destroyed.

The other game I would like to cover is Kao the Kangeroo: Round 2.  I was vaguely aware of this title before buying it but had always dismissed it as just another generic platform game.  However, just like Kya I discovered a bit of a hidden gem.  Development duties this time belong to a Polish company called Tate Interactive,  and the game was published by JoWood Interactive in Europe.  I have not played the first game in the series that was available for the Dreamcast, but it would appear that this game picks up some time after the end of the first one, with Kao incarcerated in a cage by a dastardly hunter.  After being broken out by his parrot friend, you are told that the hunter as also captured many other animals, and from there in becomes your mission to set them free.  Kao, armed with his trusty boxing gloves, a deadly spinning tail attack and other items like boomerangs, sets off through several worlds with 4 or 5 missions within them, in order to help his friends.

I was really surprised with just how well this game is made.  The controls are really solid and responsive (which is of vital importance in a platformer), the graphics are excellent, and a nice variety of things for you to do just in the first world.  It is very much a collect-a-thon style platformer in the style that Rare made for the Nintendo 64, though thankfully it doesn't go overboard with it like Donkey Kong 64.  Instead your limited to three things you have to hunt down and pick up in each level: stars, which are typically dished out for defeating enemies in combat, coins, which are strewn everywhere throughout a level as well as found in breakable post and crates, and purple gems with a usually a bit more tucked away than the coins, and unlock extra mini games in the hub world.

Like I said at the beginning, I was lucky enough to find both of these games for £2, though they normally go for a bit more than that.  Should you happen to spot either of these games in your local game shop or perhaps at a car boot sale or flea market, I would certainly consider giving them a go if you enjoy a good 3D platformer now and again.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Announcing the PSP Vault series on RMGB TV

I have just launched a new video series on my YouTube channels which will showcase many different games for Sony's fantastic handheld, the PSP.  Now is an ideal time to start collecting PSP games as they are both plentiful and in most cases, cheap.

There will be two versions of each video - an overview with a voiceover by myself that will be no longer than 10 minutes in length on RMGB TV 1, and then a "XL Edition" that will be up an hour long, without any commentary.  This is in case you want to see more of a game and hear what it sounds like.

You can find the playlists for each of the different versions below. I will try and upload a new video every Friday or Saturday, time permitting. Enjoy!

Regular Edition:

XL Edition:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shox | PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #6

We're at the halfway point of this season of PS2 Tuesdays, and this time I'm looking at another rather by the name of Shox.

The EA Sports BIG range started with SSX right back when the PS2 launched, and since then there have been many other games in the series which all share a similar style. Each game in the series is high on action and thrills, and usually adds some twists to an established sport. We've had motocross action in Freekstyle, Sled racing in Sled Storm, a mean game of basketball in NBA Street 1 & 2, a gangsta rap flavoured fighting game in Def Jam Vendetta and most recently NFL Street. Amongst all these games Shox was released, and it gained very little fanfare and press compared to it's series siblings. Is that because it's a bad game? No way, Shox is one of the best arcade racers I have played in recent times, and now I will attempt to explain why.

Imagine an arcade racer in the tradition of Ridge Racer or Sega Rally. Colourful well designed tracks and cars you can slam round corners with the greatest of ease. Shox has both of these things and much more. The vital sensation of speed that so many racing games crucially lack is present and correct, and even more importantly the game is great fun to play. It basically takes the idea of rallying, with the off road courses and real cars that have taken part in the WRC over the years, and then throws the point to point time trial nature of the real thing out of the window. Races take place over 3 laps against a field of five other cars. There are 6 races in a particular class, and four classes to work your way through. Each progressive class has a more powerful selection of cars.

The gimmick to this is the Shox zone. There are three of these zones in each track, and when you enter one a timer starts to tick down. This time is divided into gold, silver and bronze sections, and the faster you are the better the medal earned in that section. Get a gold in all three Shox zones during one race and you activate the Shoxwave - a bubble of air that travels around the track in front of you. If you manage to catch up to it and drive in it you get a huge increase in the amount of cash you earn.

This cash can be used to either buy new cars outright or gamble to try and win them. Gambling starts off being very expensive and risky, but every time you lose a gamble the cost is halved, and the challenge is made slightly easier. So if you keep at it eventually you will win because the CPU driver will be driving so badly you could get out and walk and still beat him. This kind of removes the challenge of the game and makes buying the cars a pointless exercise when you can just keep gambling until you win.

Adding to the replay value of the game are the platinum cars, which are basically the same as the normal cars but with improved handling, speed and a nice shiny metallic paint job. Before you start a race you can see what car you have to use on that particular track to get a platinum, and earning it involves getting 3 gold Shox zones with that car on that track. As well as the extra cars, there's another reason to earn platinums on the tracks - you have to earn at least 8 in order to open up the last four races in the Shox category and complete the game.

Graphics are very good - fast, smooth, colourful and vibrant. Considering there are only 3 different environments spread over 28 tracks there's a surprising amount of variety in the design of the tracks. You will pass golf courses, drive along a tropical beach and even down a toboggan run! The cars are solid and there are even damage and dirt effects that gradually build up over the course of a race, although this doesn't effect your handling or performance in any way. The cars all look like their real life counterparts too, and they range from Lancia Deltas through Mitsubisha Lancers, Subaru Imprezas to the powerful B class cars that have been banned.

Shox manages to catpure the feeling of classic arcade racers such as Sega Rally Championship and Ridge Racer.
The music is excellent too, and really adds to the excitement during a race. The style is dance music which is very heavy on bass, and it dynamically changes when you enter or leave a Shox zone, kind of like the music in the SSX games which changes depending on whether you are doing well or badly. The sound effects are nothing offensive or amazing - the usual range of engine noises and crunches when you inevitably hit something.

The overall difficulty level is fairly low as you can just keep trying a race until you manage to win. Some of the races took me a fair few tries though, mainly because the pack is always quite close behind you at all times. One mistimed corner or collision on the last lap is enough to lose you the race, but you can restart at any point from the pause menu. The platinum challenges do add an extra degree of difficulty if you feel like beating them all, but at the end of the day the game wont take you that long to beat. You will be having fun all the way though at that's what counts. You can find Shox very cheaply (for around £3) so it is extremely good value for money.

The only other thing to mention is the multiplayer mode, which is competently done but cant compete with the likes of Burnout 3's Crash mode. The graphics are noticeably less detailed, the Shox zones are absent and there's no music, but at least it maintains the 60 frames per second speed of the main game.

Overall I can really recommend Shox. It's the sort of game I would have happilly put £1 coins in a few years ago when the arcades were still popular, and this sort of game is quite rare nowadays. It's not in the same league as something like Burnout 3, but if you've already finished that this is the next best thing. Go and track down a copy, I'm really glad that I did.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Flipnic: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #5

There's no getting around the fact that Flipnic is an incredibly strange game, and one that sits in a niche so narrow that it meant it was easily overlooked at the time of release.  The strange animation that plays as the game loads up should be your first clue that this is something "different".  Different good or different bad depends on how you personally feel about pinball, the digital recreation of it, and how patient you are.

You see, purists of real pinball machines are more often than not likely to turn their noses up at video games attempt to do justice to their favourite past time, at least up until recently where Pinball Arcade has come along to challenge those notions.  Likewise, a good deal of videogamers probably don't want pinball coming anywhere near their precious entertainment.  The number of people who straddle the middle group who appreciate both as valid forms of electronic excitement is quite small, yet it is these people who will get the most out of Flipnic.

The first "table" is the one that most resembles a real pinball machine, replete as it is with familiar elements like pop bumpers, drop targets and ramps.  It is comprised of a dozen or so interconnected screens, each of which feature some kind of mode such as multiball or having to knock down specific targets.  Flippers are of course a given, and are present in all tables except for the last set, which choose to use a paddle much like the one found in games like Breakout and Arkanoid as the method for you to keep the ball in play. 

It's challenging, to say the least.  In fact the entire game is quite high on challenge.  Even though it is actually quite hard to completely lose your ball on the first stage due to there being only one out hole on the bottom screen, the things you have to trigger to fully unlock the next stage are not easy and will take a fair amount of time, luck and skill to overcome.  Thankfully, even when you get a game over, if you save your progress to a memory card you won't have to beat what I call the "core" challenges again.  These are the ones in red on the progress screen that have to be defeated in order to fully unlock the next stage.  Even if you haven't unlocked them, the game is kind enough to let you play the other stages on a trial basis for five minutes and one continue.  This is a nice touch when you lose your temper with a particular challenge (you will) and need to do something else for a while.

The graphics in Flipnic are very polished and each level has its own style.
Later tables grow increasingly wacky in their design and each has their own visual style.  The music that goes along with each one is nice and funky in places. As for value, Flipnic contains a ton of things to keep you occupied.  There are four different table styles and four separate levels within each one. As you gradually progress through, fully unlocking the later ones, you will also gain access to mini games such as football and basketball which can be played in two player mode.  Speaking of which, the main game has a two player option as well, though I have not had the chance to try it out yet, sadly.

Overall, if you enjoy digital pinball, or just want a game that's a little different from the norm for that matter, then Flipnic is a very worthwhile purchase.  Looking at eBay, it would appear that the game goes for around £15 in the UK and $20 in the US - though it can be found for less if you're patient.  I would say this is a fair price for the game, and if you're tempted I would recommend adding to your collection now, before the game becomes any rarer and the price increases.  With pinball itself enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, the number of people interested in classic games like this one will only be on the rise.

There have actually been a decent amount of pinball games that make use of the video game medium to offer something that can't be done on a physical table, and more often than not the results are positive.  My personal favourite has always been Pinball: Revenge of the Gator on the Game Boy, but those seeking this type of game should also check out the following - Kirby's Pinball Land and Pok√©mon Pinball for the Game Boy, Alien Crush, Devil Crash and Jaki Crush for the PC Engine, Pinball of the Dead for the GBA, Adventure Pinball for the PC and Metroid Prime Pinball for the DS.  There are more than these out there, but these should keep you happy for quite some time.